By now, I’m sure we’ve all read this famous quote by Warsan Shire:“You have to understand that no one puts their children on a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”
We may have even seen the heartbreaking photos on the ‘Humans of New York’ page that are accompanied with the always shocking, always depressing stories that narrate the horrors refugees face. Stories of bombs, war, death, blood, lost love, lost hope, trauma and mental health issues…
Personally, the image of one woman sobbing painfully, one hand clutched to her mouth in pain as she recalls how her husband slowly floated away from her in the dark waters until he could no longer be seen, will forever be burned in my memory.
And as much as we try to distance ourselves from what is happening across the seas, possibly behind the justification that ‘There’s nothing we can do’, the reality is that this issue cannot be swept under the rug and there are methods we can utilise to help.
I think what’s also really important is that we need to be critical thinkers in a time of such broad, controversial conflict.
But how do we become critical thinkers…?
By educating ourselves about the happenings of the world around us, not through any lens (especially not the lens of the mainstream News Media), but through the lens of the source itself. In this case the refugees.
Hence, I’d like to discuss three things in this article:
- The reasons refugees are fleeing
- Government reactions
- What we can do
Reasons for fleeing:
So why are people fleeing their homes? Shall we water it down to the simple claim that, ‘they just wanna come ‘ere and take advantage of our developed country’, as the Islamophobic, racist, and uneducated Bogans like to assert? Or shall we – God forbid – utilise the fully functional (well not for everyone) organs given to us and simply read and watch what is happening across borders and come to a logical conclusion?
There’s a thought I’d like to throw out there and I want you to really think about it. Crazily enough, it’s a concept you may have never bothered to contemplate about in your life before.
You know what it is?
It can drive people to do the most outrageous of things. Like, for example, getting onto a plastic boat, with only one bag of belongings on your back, a life vest and any sanity you may have retained after the trauma that you’ve witnessed, where after you sail through rough waters in utter and complete darkness. With the little shred of hope that you have left, you wonder about what it’ll be like if you actually managed to live through the arduous journey and make it onto land.
Will you be forced away by authorities? Will you be welcomed? Helped? Cared for?
According to UN data, there are 4,185,302 people of concern (Syrians).
“This figure includes 2.1 million Syrians registered by UNHCR in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, 1.9 million Syrians registered by the Government of Turkey, as well as more than 26,700 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa.” – Source: UNHCR (as of October 4th)
My dad once asked me whether or not I would marry a man who is not from Australia, i.e. they are living in another country. Over here, Arab girls get proposals from a lot of men living abroad, particularly from countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.
In response to my father, I scoffed and said, “Ew, I would never marry an import! They probably just want to use us to get a visa and come over here!”
My father said a few words to me after, which forever changed my perspective surrounding the stigmatization of imports. He said to me, “People are dying to leave their war-torn countries and if proposing to a girl they’ve never met will help them leave, then so be it. You can’t even begin to imagine the kind of circumstances that people are suffering under because you’re shrouded in privilege and opportunity.”
I realized that I had been very insensitive.
“Save a life,” my Dad used to say. “If a respectable man proposes, don’t be so averse to the idea. Save a life.”
Last year, I volunteered with Islamic Relief, a charity organization that is well known for helping refugee’s overseas, mostly through donations and groundwork. It was a volunteer experience which forever changed my perception of what refugees really endure, for I didn’t just volunteer for an event, but I actually travelled 3 hours to the highest mountain in all of Australia and climbed it in -13 weather. Every volunteer was only allowed to climb after they raised $1000 and Alhamdulillah (thank God) I managed to do that.
More significantly though, it was that hours long trek up the mountain and back down that allowed me to get a little feel of what refugees really go through when they are escaping war. Do you know how many times I had to stop, breathe, and mentally motivate myself to keep going, to just get to the top? Do you know how many times I looked around at the all encompassing snow and blinding whiteness and wondered whether I would make it up there?
Now imagine a refugee. Who had the added baggage of trauma…of children…of the weight of their belongings…
What hope would they even have left?
At least I knew that when I turn back around, I’d be safe. I get to go home to a warm bed and cup of tea. I know what’s waiting for me.
But they don’t.
These people aren’t just leaving because they felt like it; they’re leaving because they have a right to a secure future, away from civil war, violence and bloodshed. They have the right to wake up in the morning and not fear their house being burned down, a son taken away by force or bombs raining down above them.
They have the right to a life and they have the right to live, freely, happily and safely.
It’s nothing more, nothing less.
Every time I read headlines like this:
‘Authorities on Hungarian borders use force and weaponry to prevent refugees from passing through’
I feel a chill go down my spine.
I think to myself, these people have suffered enough. When will their torture end? When will their pain be alleviated and their conditions bettered?
But more than that, I wonder how authorities have the heart to look at such broken people and deny them the very thing they’re on the hunt for: a new place to call home.
Are governments so wrapped up in this whole notion of security, this whole concept of ‘us vs. them’, that even the act of helping another human being needs to be thoroughly considered and treated as a threat?
Then you have people like the former Australian Prime Minister stating that they will only accept a handful of Christian refugees, because according to him, they are the minority that are suffering the most. Australia was dead-set on not taking in any refugees and it was only after Tony Abbott got slammed by activists and some parliamentarians that he reluctantly made the above statement.
Can I just mention while on the topic, that Australia probably has one of the most disgusting policies regarding refugees and asylum seekers. I’m not sure if any of you have heard of Christmas Island (It’s an island separate from Australia) and it is where the government detains families and children. The environment there cannot be described with a single word.
Sexual assault and rape by officers. Bashings. 24/7 security cameras. Fences.
You’re basically treated like an animal, after everything you’ve already experienced. It is horrible and it is situations like these that make me wonder how we’re described as a developed country.
Another thing that I absolutely love (sarcasm), is when governments put numbers in their claims. The British home secretary, Theresa May, said that over the next five years, England would accept 20, 000 refugees. Australia wanted to accept 10, 000.
Because you know, after all, we’re all just numbers aren’t we? Numbers in a political game far more complex and nasty than you’d ever be able to comprehend.
After all, that’s why you have authorities beating, gassing and rejecting refugees on borders. In the end, refugees aren’t viewed as human beings, but as a dispensable number.
What can we do?
Depending on where you live, the number of things you may be able to do may vary.
Where I live for example, we have lots of non-for-profit charity organisation that work to lobby for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in particular. ASRC (Asylum Seeker Resource Center) is a great organisation in Australia that actually has legal services to pull refugees out of detention centers (like Christmas Island). They aid and advocate for those who are suffering especially at the hands of selfish governments and more than once, they have succeeded in bringing people out of centers and into normal society.
There’s also an organisation here that is a foster home for all orphaned refugee children. They are always recruiting individuals from varying backgrounds to help look after the children during the day and interact with them to help them meet future goals. I got asked to work with a Syrian child, as my language skills in Arabic would obviously be very useful. But you’d be more than that; you’d become their friend and their mentor. They need someone to look up to, to trust, and it would be nice if you became that person.
If you have anything like this where you live, I highly recommend that you get yourself involved. Volunteer wherever you may see an opportunity, even if it means just putting a smile on a child’s face.
- Donate to charity organisations.
- Lobby against your government.
- But most importantly, make dua (prayer).
And that is the very least you can do for someone who is struggling.
The prophet (pbuh) said: “Fight injustice with your hands and if you cannot do that, then with your voice and if you cannot do that, then with your heart. But that is the weakest form of faith.” – Muslim, 34.